Hawaii's health authorities began looking for people on Friday who may have had close contact with a Japanese tourist who was ill on the island of Oahu and who tested positive for a new corona virus shortly after returning to his home country.
The case was made public at a press conference in Honolulu by Governor David Ige and senior health officials, who said the man in question had been infected in Japan before he left for the trip or on his way to Hawaii.
This assumption is based on the 14-day incubation period of the virus and the fact that the man became symptomatic after less than a week in Hawaii, state health officials said.
The patient and his wife visited Maui Island from January 28 to February 3, then traveled to Oahu, where they flew back to their home in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, on February 7.
The man had shown no signs of illness until he reached Oahu, where he initially developed cold-like airway problems, but no fever, said state health director Dr. Bruce Anderson told reporters.
Back in Japan, he became seriously ill and was tested for coronavirus after a hospital stay, Anderson said.
Hawaii officials were informed on Friday of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and government officials alerted local healthcare providers to look out for coronavirus-like diseases.
"We believe this is a serious problem and I would like to assure you that this scenario is exactly what we have prepared for and what we are prepared for," said the governor.
The biggest immediate focus is on identifying and tracking down people who have had "longer personal contacts" with the Japanese after showing symptoms on Oahu, Dr. Sarah Park, the state's chief epidemiologist.
Based on what is known about the transmission of the disease, the patient was unlikely to be contagious on Maui since he was asymptomatic at the time and anyone who had casual accidental contact with him after becoming ill, like him Passing in a hallway would be considered low risk, Park said.
The apparent lack of male fever in Hawaii is also a good sign, as infected people are considered the most contagious when they have a fever, she said.
The man's exact itinerary remained unclear, except that he lived in a Hilton Grand Vacations shared apartment in the Waikiki section of Honolulu, Anderson said, adding that he did not seek medical help until he returned to Japan.
State health officials said they would consult the Japanese authorities to find out more details about his visit to Hawaii.
In Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific island country closest to the source of the coronavirus outbreak, no infections have been documented on its soil, while the number of US cases confirmed nationwide is 15, none fatal. Eight cases are in California.
The global total now exceeds 66,000 cases with more than 1,500 deaths, most of them in the Hubei province of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Outside of China, nearly 450 cases and three deaths have been recorded in around 24 countries and areas. Japan is among the most severely affected countries with 251 confirmed cases, most of them on a cruise ship that was quarantined in a port.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday.